April 16, 2014

Guest Post: My son came home sad and skin color was to blame

by Kimberly Coleman of Mom in the City

My family moved from Harlem a year and a half ago when it was time for our oldest son Michael to attend Kindergarten.  There were several reasons that we wanted to move but one of the main reasons was that we couldn’t find a school that we felt great about.  For preschool, I traveled three hours a day (back and forth twice) to an excellent open Universal Pre-K program with a great racial mix of students.  That commute was crazy though, so we looked for a school closer to our Harlem home.  There was a great academic one, but I felt like the school was all about academics and that there wasn’t a lot of fun/creative outlets for the kids. (I’m a big fan of play for young kids!)

That left us with two school options – a charter school or travel hours each day to one of the city’s open zoned schools.  Pre-K made it obvious that a lengthy commute didn’t fit our family.  There were several great local charter schools, but they were all lottery based.  We weren’t willing to wait to see if our kid received a coveted spot, so we just moved to a neighborhood where all of the local schools were highly regarded.  That is how we ended up in Forest Hills (Queens).

For the most part, we have been happy with our choice.  Michael loves his school.  We love the education.  The only challenge (beyond the regular urban public school challenges) is that there is not a lot of racial diversity in the school – as in there are very few Black and Latinos.  As such, Michael was the only brown kid in his class last year.  For the most part, that was a non-issue, but there was one time in particular last year that color became an issue.

The incident occurred based on a lunch conversation.  Michael came home sad because one of his little White girl classmates was sharing her snack with everyone else…but him. (All of the kids shared with one another.)  “He can’t have any” she had said “because he is not White”.  Here’s the thing…at their age, I don’t really think that it was a race thing.  Rather, I think that it was a “difference” thing.  Kids at that age draw lines based on any apparent differences (freckles, red hair, etc.).  All I know is that it hurt my child’s feelings….and no mom likes to see her kid hurt unnecessarily!  The one good thing about that whole incident though is that I was able to see that Michael “got” that people are people.  He told his dad, “But I told her that we’re all the same underneath, right?” Most definitely.  Our family just had to accept the reality that there is no school setting in NYC (except maybe the UN school) that mirrors our family’s lifestyle.  We go to church and have social relationships with all races and ethnicities as well as all economic classes of folks.  After school life will just have to compensate.  Don’t get me wrong though…I’m definitely keeping a close eye on this issue.  I have no problem pulling my children out of a school if they are being harassed for being Black.  You better believe that!

On my blog, Mom in the City, I primarily write about the things that are common to all moms of young kids.  For the most part, I do believe that our lives and “likes” as moms are consistent across the board.  However, I do think that there are certain situations in our lives that arise which are very different.  This is one of those. 

How do you as a mom of color prepare your child for situations that may arise where they are singled out (in a negative way) simply because of the color of their skin?

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  • http://www.thencameisaiah.com Tiara

    I wrote about a very similiar issue a few months ago. It is so difficult because you can’t insulate children from seeing these issues. Recently, my son was looking in the mirror and he said – “I’m not white, I’m brown.” He goes to a school were there are very few kids of color as well. I just tried to reinforce that brown is beautiful and that is pretty much my strategy for helping him combat any negativity that he may face. He is also really tall (he is almost in 5T clothes and he just turned 3!), I am trying to instill inner confidence in him so that he will know he is great just the way he is. By the way – I went to elementary school in Forest HIlls!! I am a native of Queens and my mom put me in school there for very similar reasons. It will all be okay, girl!

  • Ana

    I’m so glad you pointed out that children at that age often differentiate based on what they see and not necessarily because of the racial aspect of the matter. All the same, it’s sad that differentiating begins at such a tender age. It just goes to show that separating and othering beginning young and if parents are careful to correct that behavior it can lead to prejudice down the road. Kudos to you for how you handled this situation.

    • Ana

      Okay, I really need to proofread my comments before submitting. Yikes! Proofreading is fundamental.

  • Kimberly/Mom in the City

    Thanks Ana and Tiara!